The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer | Chapter 19 | Summary

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Summary

Tom's return home does little to improve his mood. Aunt Polly confronts him with his lies about a dream, and she is once more disappointed in him. He offers his only exonerating evidence: He left her a note and kissed her in her sleep. She doubts him, starts to check, and resists. When she does look, she finds that, in this case, Tom is being truthful.

Analysis

For all of Aunt Polly's tears over Tom, here is her proof that he does have compassion. The novel began with her worry that she would "spare the rod" and therefore "spile [spoil] the child," but she is also in the difficult position of being the lone caregiver to two boys who've lost their mother (her sister). Tom is a trying child throughout the novel, but the reader sees regular evidence that he cares for her—and that she cares for him. While it is unpleasant and inefficient, the medicine Aunt Polly gives him is a result of her worry. She tries to explain his nightmares after the murder by admitting that it had upset her sleep as well. Again, while their behavior toward each other is comic, the underlying truth is that Tom and Aunt Polly are trying to find their way in their relationship. Aunt Polly's gullibility can also be read as optimism that Tom, despite being filled with "Old Scratch," is at heart a good boy and will turn into a good man with time. His note to her and the kiss he says he gave her are affirmation of that belief.

Tom's interactions with the primary figures in his life—Aunt Polly, Mary, and Becky—reveal that while boys and men have their own interests and rituals, women and girls primarily act in supporting roles centered around male figures; they are caretakers, worriers, punishers, and objects of affection for the boys of the novel.

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